The new order
Even with Lawson, Heels aren't as good as Devils
Posted: Thursday February 7, 2008 1:56AM; Updated: Thursday February 7, 2008 12:54PM
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- First comes the asterisk, because any discussion of this meeting between Duke and North Carolina must be prefaced with it: When the Tar Heels took the court just before tipoff -- a running procession of their mascot, their flag-carrying cheerleaders, and an adrenaline-charged Tyler Hansbrough bringing up the rear -- there was no Tywon Lawson. He came later, walking, and while his teammates were forming a layup line, he went to the bench. That's where the Heels' No. 1 point guard and his bum ankle stayed for the rest of the night, enjoying the same vantage point as their No. 2 point guard, Bobby Frasor, who tore his left ACL in December.
And so second-ranked Duke, the asterisk denotes, beat the Quentin Thomas-at-point-guard version of third-ranked Carolina 89-78.
With that out of the way, we are free to state other truths, the most important one being this: Duke, the way it's playing right now -- as a perfectly harmonized band of perimeter weapons, one that UNC coach Roy Williams says "has all the ingredients" -- is a better team than Carolina is even with Ty Lawson.
By Las Vegas odds, what happened here on Wednesday in Chapel Hill was an upset; by preseason rankings, it was an upset. But by what has transpired this season, one in which Carolina has struggled to defend like a title team, and Duke has exceeded all expectations on both ends, this was no upset. Which is why when the buzzer sounded and the silence fell over the Dean Dome, there was no whooping from the villainous Blue Devils in their black road jerseys, no taunting of the home crowd the way Maryland did when it knocked off the then-undefeated Heels on Jan. 19. Duke merely walked through the handshake line and then walked off the floor, businesslike, having loudly affirmed its status as a bona fide Final Four contender.
The best four teams in the country right now are Memphis, Duke, Kansas and UCLA; the Blue Devils, despite lacking what's perceived to be the proper amounts of size and brawn and experience, have proven they belong in the club.
"We know who we are; we are a very unconventional team," said Duke coach Mike Kryzewski. "We are not a very strong physical team, but I think we are strong emotion-wise and toughness-wise; we are really a together group. ... You just find different ways to win, and because we have versatile players, they are able to do that thus far."
The nagging question coming into this game, aside from the status of Lawson's ankle, was: how in the hell would Duke's front line of two 6-foot-8 young'uns (freshman Kyle Singler and sophomore Lance Thomas) be able to stop the 21.8-points-and-10.4-boards-per-game monster that is Hansbrough? The answer: It couldn't, and it didn't. Singler and a steady diet of double-teamers came at Psycho T and he still finished with 28 points and 18 rebounds. Singler pointed out the flip-side to this, something thing that probably didn't get enough attention this week: "We might have had mismatches on defense, but so did they," he said. "It just came down to whoever executed better, whoever performed better."
While Duke minimized Hansbrough's damage by locking down on the perimeter -- "no one else hurt us," Singler said, and he was right, as the Heels went 3-for-17 from long-distance -- UNC crumbled due to its inability to defend all of the Blue Devils' deadly wings. A succession of crowd-deflating threes by the Dukies put the game out of hand. Point guard Greg Paulus was 6-of-8 on the night, most of them coming against an overmatched Thomas; Singler was 3-of-6 with Hansbrough attempting to guard him on the outside; and as a team the Blue Devils were 13-of-29 from beyond the arc.
"They got any shot they wanted," said Williams, whose team allowed six Duke players to score in double figures. "I don't know very many times tonight our defense dictated what shot they got. They had better spacing; they were more patient."